MCViewPoint

Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

1991: When America Tried to Keep Ukraine in the USSR

Posted by M. C. on April 29, 2022

Indeed, in the case of Ukraine, President George H.W. Bush even traveled to Kyiv in 1990 to lecture the Ukrainians about the dangers of seeking independence from Moscow, while decrying the supposed nationalist threat.

https://mises.org/wire/1991-when-america-tried-keep-ukraine-ussr

Ryan McMaken

The US government today likes to pretend that it is the perennial champion of political independence for countries that were once behind the Iron Curtain. What is often forgotten, however, is that in the days following the fall of the Berlin Wall, Washington opposed independence for Soviet republics like Ukraine and the Baltic states.

In fact, the Bush administration openly supported Mikhail Gorbachev’s efforts to hold the Soviet Union together rather than allow the USSR to decentralize into smaller states. The US regime and its supporters in the press took the position that nationalism—not Soviet despotism—was the real problem for the people of Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.

Indeed, in the case of Ukraine, President George H.W. Bush even traveled to Kyiv in 1990 to lecture the Ukrainians about the dangers of seeking independence from Moscow, while decrying the supposed nationalist threat.

Today, nationalism is still a favorite bogeyman among Washington establishment mouthpieces. These outlets routinely opine on the dangers of French nationalismHungarian nationalism, and Russian nationalism. One often sees the term nationalism applied in ways designed to make the term distasteful, as in “white nationalism.”

When nationalism is convenient for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and its European freeloaders, on the other hand, we are told that nationalism is a force for good. Thus, the US regime and mainstream media generally pretend that Ukrainian nationalism—and even Ukrainian white nationalism—either don’t exist or are to be praised.

In 1991, however, the US had not yet decided that it paid to actively promote nationalism—so long as it is anti-Russian nationalism. Thus, in those days, we find the US regime siding with Moscow in efforts to stifle or discourage local nationalist efforts to break with the old Soviet state. The way it played out is an interesting case study in both Bush administration bumbling and in the US’s foreign policy before the advent of unipolar American liberal hegemony. 

The Antinationalist Context

In the late 1980s, it was already apparent that the Soviet Union was beginning to lose its grip on many parts of the enormous polity that was the USSR. Restive nationalists within the Soviet Union were beginning to assert local control. For example, by 1989, ethnic Armenians and Azeris were already embroiled in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh that continues to this day. Deadly ethnic violence flared, but Moscow, in its weakened state, put off taking action. Yet, in January 1990, Moscow did act in what is known in Azerbaijan today as “Black January.” Soviet tanks rolled into the Caspian Sea port city of Baku and killed as many as 150 Azeris—many of them civilians: “The ostensible aim of the intervention was to stop Azeri massacres of Armenians, but the real goal was to prevent the Azerbaijani Popular Front from taking power.”1 The Popular Front was the chief political arm of anti-Moscow nationalism in Azerbaijan, and its leader stated, ”The goal is to drive out the army, liquidate the [Moscow-controlled] Azerbaijani Communist Party, establish a democratic parliament.”

Yet instead of Washington pundits instructing Americans to announce “I stand with Azerbaijan,” we were told the real threat was nationalism. As Doyle McManus wrote at the Los Angeles Times in 1990: “An ancient specter is haunting Europe: untamed nationalism…. From Baku to Berlin, as the Soviet Bloc has disintegrated, ethnic conflicts that once seemed part of the past have suddenly returned to life.” These old nationalistic impulses, one official from the State Department averred, are “dangerous ghosts” from Europe’s past. Arch establishment foreign policy advisor Zbigniew Brzezinki was on hand to claim that ethnic tensions could lead to “geopolitical anarchy.” Bush administration officials were “worried” that smaller national groups might replace the Soviet Union. At the time, it was not uncommon to hear that nationalism in Europe would bring about a situation similar to that which supposedly caused World War I. As one “senior Bush advisor” said, “It’s 1914 all over again.”

So, when the Soviet tanks showed up to crush a potential coup that might free some Soviet subjects from Moscow’s yoke, the feeling in Washington was one of relief rather than dismay at Moscow’s aggression. Washington was clinging to the idea that the answer to nationalism was to ensure the continued existence of—as Murray Rothbard put it—”a single, overriding government agency with a monopoly force to settle disputes by coercion.” That agency was the USSR. 

The US Against Independence for Ukraine and the Baltics

See the rest here

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